INSIGHT Into Diversity recently spoke with three alumni of the PhD Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans attain their business PhD and become professors who mentor the next generation of business leaders. These alumni are current business school deans.
In this online-only portion of the conversation for the October issue of INSIGHT Into Diversity, these deans discuss ways schools can better prepare MBA students for the global workplace and the importance of accredited business programs.
Miles Davis, PhD, is dean of the Harry F. Byrd Jr. School of Business and professor of management at Shenandoah University in Virginia. He is an authority on entrepreneurship, focusing on areas of integrity, values, and principles within the business sector, as well as faith-based entrepreneurship. Davis has worked as a managing consultant and principal for EDS Corporation and has consulted for Boeing Corporation and the U.S. Mint.
Rowena Ortiz-Walters, PhD, is the dean of the SUNY Plattsburgh School of Business and Economics and professor of management. She previously served as chair of management in the School of Business and Engineering at Quinnipiac University, where she helped found its Business Women in Search of Excellence initiative and Center for Women and Business. She has also served as an advisory board member for a study on gender diversity for Harvard Medical School.
Delmonize “Del” Smith, PhD, is dean of the College of Business and Public Affairs at Alabama A&M University. He has had an extensive career in the business sector, having launched and later sold his first tech startup at the age of 25. His most recent strategic human resources and information technology management startup sold for $750 million. Smith has also served as a systems analyst in the U.S. Army, as a consultant for Fortune 1000 firms, and as an economic development commissioner.
Corporate recruiters emphasize the importance of students graduating with cultural competence. Do you think business schools are adequately preparing their students for the global workforce, and if not, what more do you believe they should be doing?
Smith: I think business schools are making tremendous progress in modifying their curricula and experiences to expose students to what they’re going to face in a global workplace. I think, of course, that more can be done, but I want to come back to this idea of cultural competence and that being synonymous with global competence. If you look within the U.S. for examples, we have business schools that are exposing students to global issues such as commerce in China and how to do business in other countries; I also think it’s very important to think about cultural competency in terms of how to interact with and be competent about individuals who might reside in the same country yet have very different experiences, or who are from different socioeconomic backgrounds, races, ethnicities, or genders.
Ortiz-Walters: This is an area where schools of business are really shining. … Because we’re recruiting and attracting a greater number of international students, I think that helps both domestic and international students interact and [provides] an opportunity to build cultural competence. I think that’s really key, and as you’re bringing in more of these students who have a different perspective and experience than domestic students, this definitely helps them both develop cultural competence.
I think [the AACSB’s] new chief diversity and inclusion advocate could be really helpful in supporting students in developing cultural competence by having some streamlined criteria about how diversity contributes to a high-quality education.
I don’t think cultural competence is a static phenomenon — I think it’s something that shifts over time as societies change, so I think that continuing to explore different pedagogical approaches and non-curricular methods is going to be important.
Davis: Some are and some aren’t. There are those that don’t think this is important. What started this whole diversity and cultural competence movement, were all the faux pas made in the U.S., where people made mistakes in the ways they marketed products either to Hispanics or African Americans. So then they started setting up special divisions within corporate America to market to those segments of the population. But that’s become increasingly complex as you begin to include the internationalization of student bodies with doing business abroad. This goes back to the question about increasing diversity on campus; if your school is not doing anything to increase diversity on campus, how can you talk about developing cultural competence to deal with people internationally? How can you teach cultural competence if you’re not practicing it at home? And I would change the term from cultural competence to something regarding self-awareness and interpersonal interaction. Because in order to understand what you’re doing or not doing, or what needs to be done, you need to be aware of who and what you are. So it’s being willing to say, “My way isn’t the right way, and I have to operate within a cultural context.” That’s what would lead to cultural competence.
Data from the U.S. Department of Education show that the number of African Americans earning doctoral business degrees is rising rapidly; however, since 2004, these degrees have been disproportionately earned at non-accredited business schools. This is also happening with Hispanic students, although to a slightly lesser degree. Do you see this as a dangerous trend? What impact do you think this has on business school diversity and on minority graduates’ ability to compete for jobs?
Smith: I think it’s important to make a distinction between a business school that happens to not be accredited by the AACSB and a less respectable and more paper mill institution or online institution. There are numerous non-AACSB-accredited business schools around the world — Alabama A&M at this point in time happens to be one of those, although we are pursuing AACSB accreditation.
To your point, I think it is something we need to be concerned about if we have a large number of minority groups that are spending a tremendous amount of time and money on degrees from less respectable institutions or online institutions where their degree might not be valued in the actual workplace, as I think employers are looking more closely at the places where people are graduating from.
Ortiz-Walters: I definitely see this as an unfavorable trend. The ability of minority students to compete in the marketplace is going to be adversely affected if this trend continues. Within the business sector, everyone knows that accreditation is the signal of high-quality education, so if you’re getting a degree from a non-accredited institution, how competitive can you be? For faculty members, it’s becoming much more complex a job and much more competitive a space, so you definitely want to have a degree from an accredited institution. And I think [this] will eventually limit the mentoring that students of color can have. If you’re a minority doctoral student, and you get a degree from a non-accredited institution, you’re not going to be as competitive. So then there are less faculty of color in institutions, which means less mentors for students of color because there’s still definitely a preference of students of color wanting a mentor who is of color as well.
Additionally, I think there’s a need for targeted recruitment to make sure that minorities are aware of the value of accredited programs when they’re applying to schools; I don’t know if that’s always apparent or indicated. By luck I got an MBA from an accredited institution, but I don’t think that minority students — or any students — would necessarily know that or be aware of a school’s accreditation status when they’re applying.
Davis: … People are going through programs like [that] because they think it is the easy way out. I think it’s a dangerous trend, because there are people spending lots of money, and they’re not going to get what they expect to get out of it, like the credentialing. People like me, and every other dean that I’ve spoken, won’t hire those with degrees from for-profit, non-accredited programs. So that presents a problem. It means that we haven’t totally sold or made the population aware of the value of an AACSB accreditation. People enrolling in online degree programs are spending lots of money, and if their plans or aspirations are to go into academia, they’re going to be very disappointed when they go to apply for jobs at institutions.